Overcoming the Feeling of Hopelessness

Many of us have lived lives that for the most part where OK. Maybe we had times that were stressful, or a loved one passed away. Maybe finances became tight or a job was lost. But with perseverance and support from friends and family we never came to a point that life lost all meaning, and all feelings of hope. Then again there are those of us who have experienced the indescribable feeling of hopelessness. The sense that no matter what we do or who we turn to, it is fruitless because it seems that there is no one or no answer to resolve our dilemma. In medical terms we would be suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, sometimes called clinical depression. But it goes deeper than that.

Michael Moore in his book “Care of the Soul” talks about depression in a way that uses it as an ally or tool that can lead us to solutions to the imbalances that situations in life can bring us to. I have found this helpful when I have felt sad. In fact, I have found that by using the concept of my depression helping me to heal has brought me answers that have helped to resolve whatever was bothering me. From this I gained hope. By knowing this I am able to be hopeful in many situations.

On my desk I have a statement by Winston Churchill which reads, “Never, Never, Never Give Up!” There have been times in my life that I wanted to give up and go hide under the covers. Unfortunately that is a short term solution, but on occasion and in moderation I do recommend it.

In my work, I have encountered many who have reached a state of shear hopelessness. No matter what I say, or what possibilities I show are out there, my client is not able to grasp that all is not lost. Although I never had a client commit suicide while under my care, I know of others who have. The act of taking one’s life seems a viable solution to those who truly believe they have no hope left.

So how does one find and maintain hope when all seems lost? The answer to that question is as varied as the grains of sand on a beach. Everyone’s situation, at least to them is unique. To try and push our own agenda on what they should or should not do usually fails. However, by showing genuine compassion and understanding, a person may gain the trust and ear of their friend or loved one who is experiencing hopelessness. And many times this can be done best without words; a gentle touch, a shared tearful moment, a small gesture of caring or just plain listening without judgment, without advice, without words.

But what do you do if you are the one who feels hopeless? You may want to seek out a friend or loved one who can listen without judgment. By letting your thoughts, fears and tears flow then you can gain a sense of control over something that you may have no control over. This can also allow you to clean out the inner obstacles that block your ability to think clearly. To develop a path of action that can restore clarity, insight, and strength. Then again, your path to regaining hope maybe a path of no action. Some refer to this as the “Path of Surrender.” Now when I say surrender I do not mean that you give up. Surrender in the sense of allowing the possibility that although you cannot change the events or situation, maybe a power greater than you can. In Alcoholics Anonymous the concept of surrender (or acceptance) is the key to overcoming the compulsion to drink in a manner that causes great harm to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual being. This can be summed up in the first part of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When one does feel hopeless normally there are three responses that are similar to being in a dangerous situation: Fight, Flight or Freeze. Or to put it in another way: control and dominate, run away or do nothing. Each of these responses can be helpful unless taken to the extreme. The fight response taken to the extreme would involve the ego driven compulsion to control all aspects of the particular situation you are facing. Flight taken to the extreme means to ignore the problem completely and wishing it would go away. The freeze response in the extreme is just that, no practical action taken and then embracing the victim mentality by staying stuck until the situation or problem over whelms you. Obviously these are not solutions to being in situations that invokes the sense of hopelessness. However, aspects of all three of these responses done in a measured way can help you to overcome the helplessness that you may now be facing.

When one has to resort to a fight response it usually is motivated by anger and or fear. Most veterans of combat will tell you that they experienced tremendous fear before going into battle, yet they did not let the fear overwhelm them and they did their job. And any martial artist will tell you that if you fight from a point of shear anger then you will lose. A wise warrior will acknowledge his fear or anger but he will not allow himself to respond from either of those states of being. Instead he or she will use these feeling to give strength, and focus.
To flee a situation also has aspects of fear. But it also can involve wisdom. To stay and fight when the situation will overwhelm you is foolish. But to abandon any action that is practical is also foolish. A wise warrior will only stay and fight when the situation requires this action. Otherwise the warrior will avoid a fight until the time is right.

To freeze can also be described as the state of non-action. A wise warrior lets his opponent act foolishly and will only respond when the time is right or the situation demands it. Otherwise a state of non-action allows the warrior time to heal his wounds, reflect on past actions, plan for the future, and to rejuvenate her soul.

I wish I could say that there is always hope in every situation, but that would be arrogant. Then again I do believe that hope can be found in many if not most situations. But one has to be open to the possibility, be willing to change course, and accept the concept of surrender. So again I will repeat the words of Winston

Churchill during a time of great turmoil and danger:

Peace to you during your times of struggle.
Michael Patterson, LMSW
Clinical Director
Namaste family Services, LLC